Ancient mummies to parade through streets of Cairo

(CNN) – This weekend, ancient mummies of Egypt’s royal pharaohs will emerge from their resting places and roam the streets of Cairo in search of a new home.

What sounds like the plot of a movie is indeed part of a lavish celebration of Egyptian history and a project to move some of its greatest treasures to a new high-tech facility.

On Saturday, the mummies of Ramses the Great and 21 of his fellow pharaohs will take part in the event “The Pharaoh’s Golden Parade”, which is much anticipated by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The celebrations are reported to include horse-drawn chariots, choirs singing in ancient languages, and a host of movie stars and dignitaries, but the Egyptian authorities have kept the official details of the event under wraps.

“It’s a surprise,” Ahmed Ghoneim, executive director of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, the institution that will be the final resting place for the mummies, told CNN.

Even so, it is difficult to take an event of this magnitude as a surprise, especially when dress rehearsals recently took place in central Cairo. Excited Egyptians took photos of bespoke mummy vehicles adorned with golden ancient motifs and hastily uploaded them to social media.

The last step

The aim of the parade is to bring the 18 kings and four queens of Egypt along with their coffins and belongings from their ancient homeland to the Egyptian Museum.

They will be transported three miles south to their new high-tech resting place at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC).

No, not the huge Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, which will also open to the public later this year. The NMEC is a completely different museum in Cairo’s Fustat district that will complete a trio of Egyptian-themed museums in and around Cairo.

Although NMEC 2017 had a partial opening, the parade will mark the grand opening.

“It’s an opening by the president,” says Ghoneim. And the completion of the Hall of Royal Mummies, which appears to be a unique museum experience.

“The whole idea is not the mummies, the whole idea is how you show the mummies … It’s how you tell the story, it’s the environment, it’s the ambience that you feel when you get in”, he adds.

Ghoneim says that visitors entering the Hall of the Royal Mummies will experience something akin to entering a tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

All 22 royal mummies come from the New Kingdom, a time when underground tombs with hidden entrances were built to ward off grave robbers. A world about 600 years away from its flamboyant royal counterparts from the Old Kingdom who built colossal pyramidal tombs.

Prepare mummies

A virtual tour of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, buried in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt.

Dr. Mostafa Ismail, director of conservation at the Mummies Conservation Lab and storage room at NMEC, led a team of 48 people to prepare the royal mummies.

The preservation process, he tells CNN, involves placing each mummy in an oxygen-free nitrogen capsule, “which can preserve it without being damaged by the effects of moisture, especially when it comes to bacteria, fungi and insects.”

The capsule is surrounded by soft material that distributes pressure and reduces vibrations during transport.

When the mummies arrive at the NMEC, the display units have exactly the same conditions as the nitrogen capsules. “So there will be no shock to the mummy if we take it out of the box and put it in these units,” adds Ismail.

Every mummy belongs to all the objects discovered next to it, including their coffins.

The displays also show CT scans showing what’s under the package and sometimes broken bones or illnesses that the royals have been affected by.

“The main thing we want to tell visitors about these mummies is how they have been mummified and preserved for a long time.”

When asked if his team had discovered anything new about the mummies while preparing for the parade, Ismail commented, “Many things,” but none that he would reveal before the parade. So there are more surprises to come.

A new cultural center in Cairo

Undoubtedly, the Hall of the Royal Mummies will be the main attraction for visitors to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, but Executive Director Ahmed Ghoneim hopes to position the museum differently from its neighboring institutions.

“I’m not focusing on the Pharaonic era like most people would think,” he says. “Most Egyptians and non-Egyptians, when they go to an Egyptian museum, think that they are going to see the pharaohs.

“Here I sit differently, I tell a different story, go through history and come to the present.”

The first temporary exhibition focuses on Egyptian textiles and fashion. “The whole story from carpets to clothing,” says Ghoneim.

Through the exhibits, the museum will tell a richer story about the achievements of Egyptian civilization, but the museum will also be a cultural center.

“A place that offers everything, partly educational, partly cultural, partly amusing, partly to have dinner at night and so on. It is something unique.”

And finally, 3,234 years after his death, Rameses II can finally be laid to rest.

The museum will be open to the public the day after the parade on April 4th. The Hall of the Royal Mummies will open two weeks later on April 18th. The Pharaoh’s Golden Parade will be broadcast live on the Ministry of Tourism and Antiques YouTube channel.

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